The Blair Mountain Project

By Tuhus, Melinda | In These Times, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Blair Mountain Project


Tuhus, Melinda, In These Times


From his trailer home in the old coal camp of Sunbeam, WVa., Kenny King has been working for the past two decades to preserve nearby Blair Mountain in Logan County. He wants it listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, ultimately, protected as a national historic park.

What's so important about a mountain most Americans have never heard of?

"It's part of our heritage, our history," King says. "It was [the site of] the biggest armed insurrection since the Civil War." In the summer of 1921, 10,000 coal miners- including King's grandfatherfought a private force of strikebreakers supported by mine bosses for nine days for the right to join the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). In August that year, miners- incensed by the murder of some of their supporters earlier that month and the mass firings of pro-union miners - marched about 50 miles from the town of Marmet, near Charleston, the capital, to Blair Mountain. They were met by an anti-union sheriff supported by a private security force. More than 100 people- mosdy miners- lost their lives before federal troops arrived.

According to a historians account on the Friends of Blair Mountain website, "The U.S. Army and Air Corps ultimately crushed the rebellion without firing a shot. The union surrendered rather than fire upon American soldiers, making clear their patriotism." Although the coalfields weren't organized until the 1930s, when, helped by the Roosevelt administration, the UMWA welcomed most miners into its ranks, the Battie of Blair Mountain became a rallying cry for labor as it fought to organize workers in all major industries.

"I want to preserve the history and the legacy of all those guys who were fighting," King says. The biggest threat to his dream is mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, which would literally blast apart the mountain. He says two mining companies-Arch Coal and Massey Energy - have applied for up to six permits, and already been granted others, to begin operations on the former battlefield. "There's one active [MTR site] moving closer to the battlefield," King says, "There's another the state ... has already approved that will completely wipe out the southern end of the battlefield"

On June 6, labor and environmental activists will begin a five-day march from Marmet to Blair Mountain to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the miners' rebellion. They'll call for the permanent protection of the mountain, an end to MTR and strengthening labor rights and sustainable job creation. …

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